Last Friday, a group of approximately 30 artists, activists and cultural stakeholders met at the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW), Belmont, Port-of-Spain to prepare for public consultations on the National Cultural Policy and the Policy Framework for Multiculturalism with the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism which began on Monday. This was the second meeting hosted at the workshop to discuss the policies in addition to budgetary announcements related to the creative arts sector.
While feelings of disappointment and confusion were aired, many of the people present said they wanted the Government to finally listen to their views and needs. The second consultation takes place in Tobago today. Those present included president of the Artists Coalition of T&T (ACTT) Rubadiri Victor, Poetic Vibes founder Rachael Collymore, filmmakers Mandisa Pantin, Danielle Dieffenthaller and Tracy Assing, actress Penelope Spencer, visual artist Dean Arlen, TTW assistant artistic director Timmia Hearn Feldman and the T&T Film Festival’s director of community development, Melvina Hazard.
Questions arose about the proposed Creative Industries Co (CIC), which would merge the T&T Entertainment Co and the T&T Film Co (TTFC) Most were shocked by the resolution to dissolve TTFC. On the other hand they were not surprised this decision was made without stakeholder input. Spencer said the input of artists was ignored during the construction of the National Academy for the Performing Arts and that exclusion could easily happen again. “I am just afraid of the people they are putting in place to take care of us as artists. I’m not hearing folk and not local input enough. They don’t take us on when they’re doing consultation. Look at NAPA. There were so many things we could’ve done with that space, so many things that are missing and I felt slighted and ignored as an artist during that process,” she said.
The CIC is meant to be an umbrella organisation for the promotion of “film, entertainment and fashion” for which $15 million was allotted according to the Ministry of Planning’s Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) document. On the creation of CIC, Assing said: “How could they think one organisation and one board of people could have control over so many sectors and it be done properly? It’s we as artists who must think of ways to use our craft to make our statement. Otherwise deals get made in back rooms and before you know it people are makings decisions for you.”
Victor said a national cultural policy had been on the drawing board since Independence and the lack of such a document was preventing local artists from accessing international funding. “A lot of international funding is only accessible if the country has a nation cultural policy allowing for us to be able to accept money to grow the creative sector, where we don’t have to foot the bill ourselves.
“But we just also need it because we need something to regulate the players in the sector and we need clear policy direction for the way forward,” he said.
It was hard for Victor and others to say what such a policy would look like, however. This was further reason why Victor said as much talk as possible was necessary. Dieffenthaller said the T&T cultural policy should be modeled after TTT’s programming, which was largely indigenous. “I think if a lot of our people were seeing themselves visually represented in every facet they’d feel less disenfranchised and less inclined to be as disrespectful as they are to their neighbours and themselves,” she said.
Spencer said a national cultural policy needed to address teaching methods for theatre, since the medium was being introduced to the primary-school curriculum. Assing said the pre-consultation meeting and drive for artists and cultural stakeholders to attend the consultations in high numbers had ground-breaking potential. “I think that this could be a very pivotal moment for artists in Trinidad if they really stand up. Art and the development of art and art technology changes all of the time and this is why these discussions are important,” she said.